Student Dictionary

2 entries found for scavenger.
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Main Entry: scav·en·ger
Pronunciation: primarystressskav-schwan-jschwar
Function: noun
Etymology: from earlier scavager, from early French skawageour "one who collects a tax on goods sold by merchants from another town," from an early French dialect word escauver "to inspect"
1 : someone or something that scavenges
2 : an organism (as a vulture or hyena) that usually feeds on dead or decaying matter
Word History In the U.S., scavenger is not the title of a particular occupation, but it is in Great Britain. There it means "street cleaner," which is a use close to the original meaning. In English towns in the Middle Ages, a tax was placed on goods offered for sale by merchants who came from another town for market day. This tax was called a skawage, from an early French dialect word escauwage, meaning "a showing or inspection (of goods)." The skawage gave the local merchants an advantage and discouraged outsiders from selling in the town. In this way it was like our modern-day tariff, or "tax on imports." The official whose duty it was to collect this tax was called the skawager. This word was later spelled scavager and then scavenger. When the towns came to need someone to keep the streets clean, this duty also became the job of the scavenger. The word scavenger is now used in the British Isles for all street cleaners. By the time British colonists started towns in America, the skawage tax was no longer collected, and the word scavenger came to be used here in its more general sense of "someone who collects usable things from what has been discarded."

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